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WHO, Gabon Try to Isolate Recent Ebola Outbreak - 2001-12-14

The World Health Organization says it is joining other international medical organizations in tracking down an outbreak of the Ebola virus in northwestern Gabon. So far, 11 people have died from the disease.

The World Health Organization says this is Gabon's fourth Ebola threat since 1994. WHO is aiding Gabonese authorities by setting up an isolation unit and trying to locate people who may have had contact with those infected with the Ebola virus.

"We are there to provide support, logistics, reinforce the effort to track down potential cases, to set up proper or safe care practices in a health care unit there and also to diagnose cases of Ebola in a portable facility on site so we actually know whether we are dealing with Ebola cases or not," explained WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl.

There is no vaccine or cure for Ebola, a fever accompanied by bleeding that is spread through contact with bodily fluids. The virus kills up to 70 percent of its victims - most of whom bleed to death.

Experts from Medecins Sans Frontieres and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent are helping to detect and contain the outbreak.

Red Cross volunteers are also helping Gabonese officials search for an infected woman who is known to have crossed the border into neighboring Congo to seek a traditional healer.

Mr. Hartl says an alert has gone out about the woman. "The authorities on both sides of the border are aware of this. They have been alerted that if someone comes into a clinic showing signs of acute fibral illness with vomiting, fever with lots of sweating, they need to take proper nursing precautions," he said.

Gabonese authorities say they have put four villages in the remote Mekambo district under quarantine and have appealed for calm in the sparsely populated country of one million people.